Laura Weil’s connections to the Saratoga Farmers’ Market and to being a professional chef trace all the way back to her childhood, “My parents live in the area and the Saratoga Market was and is their favorite. I started cooking by peeling that first potato, and I was hooked. My mother wasn’t so strict in the kitchen, and it wasn’t long before I was cooking many dinners for my parents and sister.”
Today Laura, through her company Funky Fresh Foods, is a vendor at the Market, offering popular fruit smoothies, and over a dozen homemade burritos, including breakfast, bean and rice, pulled pork and vegetable combination burritos topped with homemade red or green salsas.
The journey, from those childhood visits to the Market to running her own business at the Market, spans the Atlantic Ocean, a few different countries, and a variety of cooking experiences. When she took a break from college and her courses in literature and culture, she went to London with a work visa, and soon was preparing elaborate dinners for friends, and always taking photos through bakery windows and of prepared plates of food, and collecting restaurant menus.
After having various jobs including working in a toy store, she secured her first paid job as a cook on an estate in Wales. “I cooked for a Dowager Viscountess where life on the estate truly looked a lot like Downton Abbey. I even wore a uniform. I’ve always been fascinated by classic British culture and the job fit in nicely. I learned how to make traditional high society British and European food, such as cheese straws, roasted potatoes and pates, in a kitchen fitted with plate warmers and AGA ranges.”
When Laura and her husband Paul (whom she had met in that toy store) returned to the United States, she worked at Shades of Green, a vegetarian restaurant in Albany. “The menu was conceived by the wife who was from Spain and was a fantastic cook. I learned a lot about cooking from her and her husband. And since I had been a vegetarian and interested in health food since before high school it was a great job for me. “
However, the restaurant scene, with the late dinner hours was not for Laura, so she migrated to some office jobs, while taking a variety of cooking classes. Later she baked for Chabad of Saratoga, and with Paul ran a health food store in Ballston Spa where she did all the cooking.
“After we left the health food store, I realized that I was very much missing being around all of the healthy produce.” They returned to the Saratoga Farmers Market and for several years worked for the Kilpatrick Family Farm.
During that time, Laura began to plan for her own food business, “What I really missed doing was cooking and I decided to open my own prepared food business at the Market using as many great market products as possible. A friend suggested that I make homemade burritos, which I had also been thinking about for a while because I learned so much from the Spanish restaurant owner in Albany.”
Funky Fresh Foods is now a year-round fixture at the Saturday Market. Laura makes her own tortillas and salsas, and uses items for the burritos from other vendors at the Market, including potatoes, eggs, yogurt, honey and various vegetables. Although she had been a vegetarian for many years, “I started eating meat again after seeing the quality humanely raised meat at the Market,” So she added pulled pork burritos with Pucker’s pickles on the side to her offerings. For the smoothies, she uses fruits from the Market when possible or purchased fruits such as the popular mango.
Customers can order flour or corn tortillas in advance from Laura to pick up the following week at the Market. This summer she also plans to offer her salsas for sale. She does catering and makes specialty cakes, emphasizing ingredients from the Saratoga Farmers’ Market. To make inquiries or to place an order, see Laura at the Market
Laura is fond of her Czechoslovakian grandmother Rosemary, who was stricter in the kitchen than was her mother. “I can still remember the joy I felt when I was allowed to peel my first potato. She made a variety of authentic, delicious Czech food, and she made the following recipe all the time. It is one of her favorites and it is one of ours.”
Lekvarove Sukrove (Slovak Prune Jelly Cake)
¾ cup good butter (Laura suggests Kate’s unsalted butter from Maine)
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks *
¼-½ cup Battenkill Valley Creamery heavy cream or half and half *
2 tsp. baking powder
2½ cups flour (may need a bit more)
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Jam, about 1 cup * (Laura’s Grandma used lekvar, prune jam, which is much better than it sounds. But any thick homemade or Farmers’ Market jam will do, such as raspberry or strawberry jam.)
Grease and flour a 13-inch square pan, such as would be used to make large batch of brownies. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg yolks and mix well.
Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together.
Add this to the egg mixture along with the vanilla.
Mix gently but well with a spoon and stir in the cream. The dough will be a little thick. (Set aside some of the dough to make decorative strips for the top of the cake.)
Press the dough into the bottom of the pan, and about 1½ up the sides.
Spread a thick layer of jam over the top of the dough and place the reserved dough strips over the jam in a crisscross pattern.
Bake at 350°F for about half an hour. When the cake is cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.